The Philippines is counting down to the deadline for candidates to file their papers to enter the already crowded race to succeed Rodrigo Duterte as president in 2022 and all eyes are on Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is seen as the favoured candidate of her father and the ruling party.
On Friday morning, with the deadline just hours away, hundreds of supporters of Duterte-Carpio gathered in the capital, Manila, carrying large banners urging her to file her candidacy despite her declaring she planned to seek re-election as mayor of Davao, the political base of the Duterte family.
“Run, Sara, Run!” her supporters cried from a convoy of vehicles to show their solidarity with the president’s daughter. Others who assembled at a nearby park raised their fists – the trademark Dutere hand gesture – to a group of journalists who crowded around them.
On social media, her supporters pushed the hashtag #RunSaraRun2022, and posted pictures of the Davao city hall with a hologram of a green eagle projected on the front of the building as an image of her power and grit.
Candidates for all positions have until 5pm (09:00 GMT) on October 8 to file their candidacy for the May 9, 2022 polls – from the presidency to town council members.
But the declared candidates can still withdraw and be substituted by another candidate until November 15, which has raised speculation that Duterte-Carpio could still make a last-minute entry into the presidential race. Her father took the same approach in 2016.
On Wednesday night, the 43-year-old appeared to rebuff her supporters’ demands, writing on social media, “I really wish to finish my final term as mayor, before I will seek another position.
“Many of you are hurt and lost hope. But we can still help each other for our country, and we don’t need a position, I don’t need to become president to be able to help.”
But on Thursday, Duterte-Carpio posted several campaign-like videos on her social media page highlighting her work in Davao and teasing a possible presidential bid.
“Thank you for all your support,” she wrote in Tagalog. “Whatever happens, I am confident that you will be there. Thank you for the confidence you have shown in me. I am greatly honoured to earn your support and trust,” she wrote in the caption in one of the videos.
The presidential palace spokesman, Harry Roque, had said that President Duterte was hoping that his daughter would change her mind and run.
“The president has from the very beginning believed that she is the most able candidate for president,” Roque told reporters in a virtual news conference.
He added that palace officials were planning to hold an overnight prayer vigil at the presidential residence to convince Duterte-Carpio to rethink her decision.
On Friday afternoon, Duterte-Carpio issued a new statement saying she is running for re-election as mayor.
“Thank you for everyone who have expressed their support,” she said. “I am presenting myself to the Dabawenyos as Mayor for the third and last time in my life as a politician. I call on everyone to work together for an honest, orderly, and credible elections in May 2022.”
Also on Friday, two other Duterte allies, Senator Ronald dela Rosa and Foreign Affairs deputy secretary Ernesto Abella declared that they are also running for president. Dela Rosa, was the national police chief who carried out Duterte’s deadly war on drugs before he ran for the senate in 2019. Abella served as Duterte’s spokesman before he was appointed to the foreign affairs office.
There has been speculation about Duterte-Carpio’s intentions over the presidency for months, after she began travelling across the country, in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic, to meet key regional powerbrokers.
Among those she held talks with was former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, son and namesake of the country’s late dictator, who still enjoys a loyal following in the northern Philippines. Marcos Jr ran and lost his vice presidential bid in 2016. There were reports that he was seeking an alliance with Duterte-Carpio for another run in 2022.
Marcos Jr’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos, had earlier said that Duterte-Carpio and Marcos both running in the next presidential race would be a “match made in political heaven”.
In the end, Marcos Jr decided to run for president, upending a possible political union with Duterte-Carpio on top of the ticket.
Last week, Duterte-Carpio had already filed her papers to run for a third term as Davao mayor, shortly after her father abandoned his bid for vice president and declared his retirement from politics.
In early September, Duterte-Carpio had said that she was not running for president, citing an agreement with her father that only one of the family could run on a presidential ticket. Now that her father has apparently withdrawn, it appears their agreement is back on the table.
Following his decision to retire from politics, Duterte had said that he believes his daughter is “the most able candidate” for president.
With Duterte possibly facing legal troubles after he leaves office in June 2022, including a probable indictment before the International Criminal Court over his so-called war on drugs, the president wants a successor who can insulate him from prosecution, leaving his daughter Duterte-Carpio as a logical choice.
But Duterte’s ruling party, PDP-Laban, is itself already in disarray, after a faction of their political bloc decided to support the presidential bid of international boxing champion and incumbent Senator Manny Pacquiao.
That leaves Duterte-Carpio without any national political machinery to rely on. Still, with a president for a father and a loyal political base from the Davao region, she has a lot going for her.
Duterte-Carpio also remains the leader in the survey among the possible and declared presidential candidates in opinion polls.
— Jekki Pascual (@jekkipascual) October 8, 2021
A Pulse Asia survey conducted between September 6 and 11 showed that 20 percent of Filipino voters support Duterte-Carpio’s presidential bid. That is eight percent lower than the support she got in a previous survey conducted in June.
Those who have already declared their intentions include Pacquiao, Marcos Jr, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, former national police chief and incumbent Senator Panfilo Lacson – all former allies of Duterte.
On Thursday, Vice President Leni Robredo, a critic of Duterte, also declared her candidacy for president.
Juvieherb Ello, 36, a former overseas Filipino worker from Mindanao, told Al Jazeera that while she appreciates what Duterte has done in the last five and a half years, she is leaning towards Robredo as her choice for the next president.
She says her support for Duterte does not automatically translate to backing for his daughter.
Heber Naong, however, a sales clerk also from Mindanao, said that should Duterte-Carpio decide to run for president, he would support her.
With the substitution of candidacy still allowed until November 15, there could still be some last-minute realignments in the name of candidates, which is allowed by law, according to Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of People’s Lawyers since 2016.
Should Duterte-Carpio decide to run in the end, Olalia said that he expects her to pursue similar policies as her father.
“Notwithstanding the biological connection, the political umbilical cord is still there. Consequently, we expect her to protect not only her father, but everybody else who should be liable” in the deadly war on drugs, he told Al Jazeera.
Olalia pointed out that even at the time Duterte-Carpio served as vice mayor and mayor of Davao, the city had been experiencing extra-judicial killings, which was supported or encouraged by her own father, the future president.
Duterte-Carpio served as vice mayor to her father from June 2007 to June 2010. Then they switched places from 2010 to 2013.
“At the end of the day, they are of the same mold.”